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The last column about transit. For a while. Probably.

This week's Market Squared can't contain the anger about transit. And neither can a council delegation apparently
20170903 bus ts 4
GuelphToday file photo

This week, I did a rare thing (for me as a person and as a city hall reporter), and delegated to city council. The topic was the fare strategy report and the impetus was an all consuming anger about transit policy at the City that can no longer be contained in this space.

Do I feel heard? Yes, I suppose so.

Do I feel like I made a difference? Insert shrug emoji.

Maybe it speaks to the power of my “tight five” that there were no follow up questions, but I have so much more to say on the subject of the fare strategy specifically, and the current state of Guelph Transit generally, so I’m going to ask myself the questions that council didn’t.

Do you trust city council and city staff to manage transit effectively?


Uh, can you expand on that?

Sigh. We need to start by acknowledging that everyone is aware of Transit’s systemic issues. It’s why I asked for a show of hands from councillors who will be hopping on Guelph Transit with the new fare capping program, and, as predicted, no hands were raised.

It’s not even an open secret why, because councillors will openly tell you that they would like to use transit more, but they just can’t make it work as an active part of their lives. Last year, Mayor Cam Guthrie was asked point blank at a Breezy Breakfast appearance about the last time he used Guelph Transit, and the mayor said it was three years.

Why is this not more of a flashing red light for councillors? They’re essentially acknowledging that the transit system they manage is unusable. If Guelph Transit doesn’t work well enough for the mayor to use once in three years, then why the heck is it supposed to work everyone else everyday?

So what should we be doing?

It starts with the system. Shorter. More frequent. Less travel time. It should not take you 45 minutes and a detour downtown to get from the area of the West End Red Centre to the area of the Victoria Road Rec Centre.

Also, on-demand service should be just that, on-demand. Don’t tell me that on-demand works better if you book a bus a week in advance because that’s not on-demand. That’s something else.

Also, stop being so core-centric. Don’t tout longer hours on the 99 Mainline on Sunday as an expanded service success story because that means nothing to anyone that lives further west than Silvercreek Parkway or further east than Victoria Road. That’s a 30-minute walk, or a $12 cab or Uber ride, to the nearest 99 stop, and if I’m already paying for the cab, why not go all the way?

But the most basic thing is that people need assurance. They want to know that when they go out to the bus stop that a bus is going to show up, that it’s going to show up on time, and that it’s going to deliver them to their destination on time especially when they have to make that transfer connection at Guelph Central Station or the U of G.  

You know, it’s strange. Staff tells us that there are actually very few complaints about transit.

Yes, not complaining about transit is a learned behaviour. Taking transit is too often an experiment in the futility of hope; hope that the bus will arrive, hope that it will arrive on time, hope that you will be able to make your transfer on time…

I remember once years ago that I had a head of steam about something transit related and I called the transit office to complain. I don’t remember the infraction, but I remember that I was mad enough to demand a response leaving all my contact information. No one ever got back to me.

That complaint went into a black hole, the same black hole that all transit complaints go. I know that Transit’s present staff wants to change that, but old habits die hardest so the number of complaints received, or not received, is not the data point council thinks it is.

Why can’t we rely on data?

It doesn’t tell the whole story, especially on the much-debated topic of transfers.

According to staff, the data show a bunch of scofflaws who don’t use their transfer for one continuous journey, like they’re supposed to, but transit’s current routes are sometimes so limiting that you can’t help but get off one bus to make a stop, and then get on the same bus at a different time to make the rest of the journey.

For instance, I use the bus near by home to go halfway around to run errands at a grocery store and then return to that same bus stop, which takes me all the way around the rest of the route to a stop close enough that it gets me a five-minute walk from my house. Kind of important when you’re carrying heavy bags.

The way staff interprets this data from my pass is that I’m cheating the system, but really, it’s the only way I can use it.

Would free transit for everyone sweeten the deal?

No, and no one on transit now is asking for a free service. Having said that, city hall nickels and dimes transit like no other city service.

What if council said that they would only pay for road repairs if there was enough traffic on the street to justify it? What if a giant sinkhole opened on a small road like Extra Street and the city said that they can’t sign off on the expense for a block with 16 houses on it? Because that’s how the city treats transit, while at the same time singing its praises and suggesting that everyone should use it.

Let me wrap up by saying this: No one taking transit thinks they’re winning. I know that when I’m taking the 80-minute transit ride from the stop near my house to the future site of the South End Community Centre, my first though isn’t that I’m getting something over on all the proper car-owning taxpayers, who are, naturally, the only residents who matter in some quarters at council.

So council has changed transit. Again. But not in the way that really matters. The struggle is real, and it continues.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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